Whitecaps Group Purchases Wuerfel Park, Plans Northwoods League Franchise

TRAVERSE CITY – The West Michigan Whitecaps are shaking up the baseball scene in Traverse City.

An investment group, headed up by Whitecaps CEO Joe Chamberlin, announced in a press conference at Wuerfel Park Wednesday that his group had purchased the park and the Frontier League’s Traverse City Beach Bums. The group is folding the Beach Bums franchise and starting anew with a Northwoods League franchise in 2019.

“We are going to be forgoing the Beach Bums’ Frontier League franchise in 2019 and instead we’ll begin play in the Northwoods League, which is America’s premiere collegiate wooden bat league,” said Chamberlin, CEO and managing member of Traverse City Baseball.

Founded in 1994, the Northwoods League is a collegiate summer baseball league comprised of top college players. The 22-team league has franchises in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota and Ontario, Canada.

The Northwoods League begins play in late May and wraps up in mid-August. The league currently has 87 alumni playing in Major League Baseball, with All-Stars like Max Scherzer, Curtis Granderson, Jordan Zimmerman, Chris Sal and Brandon Crawford having played in the league. In addition, 161 former players were taken in the MLB draft last year.

“On an annual basis there will be 250 to 350 players playing in the Northwoods League that will eventually be drafted by major league teams,” Northwoods League chairman Dick Radatz said.

The Beach Bums debuted in Traverse City in 2006 after John and Leslye Wuerfel purchased the Richmond Roosters and moved the franchise to northern Michigan. The Beach Bums made four playoff appearances in 13 seasons, winning the 2015 Frontier League championship. With the organization folding, the Frontier League is left with 11 teams.

The Traverse City franchise will be the third Northwoods League team in Michigan, joining the Battle Creek Bombers and Kalamazoo Growlers.

“We certainly do want to place a focus on having a very competitive team,” Chamberlin said. “We want to see Traverse City kids move on and do bigger and better things. We think it will also be fun to get kids from schools that everyone loves, Michigan State, University of Michigan and some of the other in state programs.”

The organization is inviting fans to participate in a name the team contest. Fans can submit ideas at www.traversecitybaseball.com.